From Mountain Kingdom to Cowtown: reflections on a visit to THE BIG CITY

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
October 27th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine I met through blogging hosted a bloggers’ retreat weekend at her home in Calgary. I was so excited to participate that I booked an overnight trip on the Greyhound to get there, and another overnight trip to get back. The total cost for a round-trip on the Greyhound to Calgary, if you book 21 days in advance, is $150 plus tax. The total for round-trip airfare from Castlegar to Calgary was $568. The choice was a no-brainer.


Herein lies one of the pitfalls of living in the Mountain Kingdom: it can be a pain in the arse to get the heck out of here if you are on a budget and in the need of a dose of the big city, not to mention have the chance to hang out with someone other than your cat every so often. Perhaps I’ll rent a car the next time.  Perhaps I’ll cross country ski.


Anyway, our hostess, Barb, lives in southeast Calgary, and many of our activities took us far, far away from this location. And I mean far. I always knew Calgary was big and spread out, but as I hadn’t been there since about the age of 18, I couldn’t get over just how much more it had grown.  Fellow internet buddies who joined us at Barb’s home for two meals live in north west Calgary, and they joked that they practically need to bring a lunch when they come to Barb’s part of town because the drive takes so long.


On the topic of growth, as we were driving around during the weekend, we passed by two landmarks from my youth that didn’t seem to be where I remembered them being. One was Heritage Park, where my dad took us kids one trip because there was a steam train there and some other historical stuff I quite frankly don’t remember. What I do remember was that, at that time, it seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere.


“Now it’s practically downtown!” Barb said when I mentioned this to her, noting the Safeway and small strip mall right next door (talk about anachronisms).


The other was the Road King truck stop, where my aunt used to work. That, too, I distinctly remember being on the edge of town. When I remarked about this to Barb, she said, “Now it’s practically downtown!




I was amazed. The city has swollen to the point where it appears to have swallowed up an enormous amount of land and resources, yet it seems to be lacking in some critical infrastructure.  And what I mean by that is transit.


What a very difficult place to get around if you had to rely on public transit and you didn’t live on a C-train (Calgary’s LRT) line. I heard this from more than one person during the weekend I spent there. There were no buses to be seen in Barb’s neighbourhood and if you wanted to catch the C-train, you had to drive there yourself, which took between five and ten minutes – when traffic was good. Lack of decent transit might account for the ridiculous amount of traffic I observed while out and about. There were no HOV lanes – but I wonder if there would be any point in having them to begin with since this didn’t seem to be the land of carpooling.


And parking! I don’t know how much was spent on parking during our weekend, but I can imagine! In fact, the Greyhound station was the only place we came across with free parking. There were some very high tech parking kiosks, but man…You may pay 10 cents less for gas there than you do here, but you sure get dinged if you want to stop anywhere.


Before I went to Calgary, I asked Barb if it would be possible for me to have a mall experience while there. Hey, I am a woman in the boonies and Waneta Plaza is not a mall, in my opinion.  And sometimes I just like to go to a mall when in a city to look around and sigh at all the things I see there. Purdy’s! The Body Shop! HMV! I even enjoy wandering around the freaking Bay!


Well, I certainly got a mall experience while Barb and the other bloggers went to a writers’ festival event. I wandered down Steven Avenue and found me a great big mall! I was stoked! I methodically made my way around it, but with difficulty: it was lunch hour and the place was packed. As I pushed my way through throngs of business people there on their lunch breaks in an attempt to get to the Purdy’s store, I started to rethink my desire for a mall experience. I looked around at everyone and thought, about six times the population of Rossland is in this building right now! That idea frightened me, actually. That’s a lot of people, and it overwhelmed me to the point where I just had to leave (after scoring some chocolate, of course).


I certainly enjoyed the shopping options in Calgary. I came across a shop in Kensington that sold exclusively heavy metal T-shirts and merchandise, so I was squealing with glee around that place for quite a while. There are also some very cool restaurant options in the city. One memorable meal we had out was at a Lebanese eatery; I hadn’t had any Lebanese food since I lived in Ottawa (and indeed that is the one and only thing I miss about that city) and this place on Steven Avenue had some pretty awesome shawarma and falafel action happening. It was heavenly. I also got to go to one of those sushi bars with the boats that move along a waterway carrying colour coded plates of sushi bliss. I’d never been to a sushi restaurant like that before and it was a cool experience (I think Drift’s tempura is better, though).


And of course the meeting up with dear friends and the making in-person connections with people you’re only familiar with over the internet was a priceless experience I’d gladly take an overnight Greyhound trip for again.  But I am thinking of lobbying Pacific Coastal to do a Calgary run, too.  It just makes sense, and we need more options for getting out of here for sure!

Categories: Op/Ed

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